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Romantic lakes, dramatic mountains, gentle plains, perfect medieval towns, and one big slick city – Lombardy has it all. Perennially popular with Brits, there’s still a wide range of prices and property options here.

asd   Despite being Italy’s wealthiest and most populous region, with all the industry and development that entails, Lombardy somehow also manages to be one of Italy’s most physically beautiful places. It’s a perfectly executed balancing act, with gorgeous open spaces never too far from business and enterprise.

      Even up in remote-seeming mountain areas, well-maintained roads connect perfect little towns humming with efficiency and contentedness. Down on the plain, meanwhile, tidy medieval towns ringed by agriculture offer an effortlessly high quality of life. And then there’s super-chic Milan… No wonder so many people want to live in Lombardy. With abundant job opportunities as well as exquisite geography, the region has an embarrassment of riches.
       Naturally, foreign buyers are drawn to the region in droves. They make up nearly a tenth of all property buyers here. Northern Europeans, and especially Brits, have long had a passion for Lombardy’s lakesides – particularly Lakes Como, Garda and Maggiore. Dazzlingly beautiful, with green mountains plunging into tranquil water fringed by pretty villas, prices on these lakes are high. But lakeside property remains a good investment. Italy’s fashion and finance capital Milan is similarly attractive to foreign buyers, despite being Italy’s priciest spot for property. It offers some of the best rental returns in the country.

      Move beyond these four hotspots and prices tail off quickly. Look high in the mountains or in one of the tiny medieval cities of Lombardy’s south and you’ll find extremely good value properties, in areas with much to recommend them. Or choose somewhere just a few miles away from one of the more popular lakes, and marvel at how much less you’ll pay than for something with a lake view. In a region as attractive as Lombardy, you can afford to look much further afield than just the most obvious locales.

 
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Land of contrasts
Stretching from the Swiss border down to the mighty River Po, Lombardy is one of Italy’s most physically diverse regions. Steep Alpine peaks dotted with ski resorts characterise its northernmost parts, shifting to impossibly romantic lakelands a little further south. Here deep glacial waterways large and small shimmer at the feet of hills and mountains, basking in warm microclimates and drawing huge numbers of enraptured tourists today as they have done for centuries. Sitting in the gaps between the lakes are scenic and comfortable small cities like
asd   Bergamo and Brescia. Further south, the terrain flattens progressively until it meets the wide plain of the Po Valley, bristling with cropfields and dotted with small, well-run medieval towns like Pavia, Cremona and Mantua. At the centre of the region sprawls economic powerhouse Milan, style capital of Europe, and to many minds the unofficial capital of Italy.

     Containing so many Alpine passes and sited on the route between so many other places, Lombardy has always occupied a strategic and politically important position. Over the centuries, it grew powerfully rich on its constant flow of travellers. It’s still awesomely rich now – producing about one fifth of Italy’s total GDP. And it’s still a great place for travellers, with excellent road, rail and air links. It’s painless to get around Lombardy, and so to enjoy its wide diversity of landscapes. It’s also nice to be able to easily nip in and out of adjacent places like Switzerland, the Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and so on.

      Culturally, and architecturally, Lombardy is defined by its prosperity. People work hard here, especially in Milan, and like to relax in peaceful, elegant places like the lakeshores in the north. They like to dress well, eat well, and keep up with cultural pursuits. They admire style and efficiency, and generally strive to maintain super-high standards of civilisation. A long, unbroken history of wealth makes for particularly lovely buildings throughout the region. Medieval centres are perfectly preserved. In the 17th and 18th centuries, innumerable impressive palaces and churches went up in towns like Bergamo, Cremona and Mantua, adding to their charm. In the following two centuries, sumptuous villas bloomed like colourful flowers along the tranquil lakeshores.  
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Home sweet home
Today, attractive buildings continue to be built in Lombardy, and buyers have lots of appealing options. Up on the border with Switzerland, many buildings show a distinctly Alpine face, with chalet-style structures edged in dark wood sporting neat lines of flowerboxes. Buyers hoping for a tranquil retreat or to take advantage of local skiing will find well-made homes here that offer great value for money. Down along the lakes, elegant and colourful villas are often in a charming fin-de-siècle style. Many have been converted into lovely apartments, which don’t often come cheap.

asd         Elsewhere along the waterside, many small-scale, tasteful developments offer a slightly more affordable way of living in such a popular location. They often have the advantage of a shared pool, making them even more attractive to the huge numbers of holidaymakers who form a very reliable rentals clientele round these lakes. Pleasant and private, these small modern developments are often touted as a good investment, and they almost certainly are.

      Traditionally, it’s been the older end of the market who’ve been most interested in Lombardy’s lakesides – drawn here by the gentle climate and the undeniable tranquility. But younger buyers are definitely becoming more common. Non-Italians looking for a waterside idyll have to compete with wealthy Milanese, for whom these lakes provide a weekend retreat from the pressures of the big city. Edged mostly by steep terrain, there’s only so much building the lakes can support, so prices here can only rise as supply continually fails to meet demand.
      Buyers looking at Milan are most likely to be looking at apartments, and there are some pretty slick new-builds across the city – all at quite a cost. Many of Milan’s grand old palazzi have been converted into apartments, and offer a very attractive place to live – with internal courtyards and whatnot – but again they ask a considerable amount of money. Rental returns from young professionals are excellent, though. South of Milan, as elsewhere across Lombardy (and especially in the mountains in the north), there’s no shortage of rustic buildings of all sizes out in the countryside if that’s what you’re looking for. Restorers will find plenty of homes that need renovation, and non-restorers will find plenty of homes that are well-equipped for immediate habitation. In the small medieval cities of the south, you’ll find attractive townhouses and apartments for sale, while comfortable villas dot the outskirts of town.

      As we’ve seen, like most Italian regions Lombardy has very different property prices across its many different areas. The old rule of ‘location location location’ definitely applies. Milan is the priciest spot in the whole region (indeed in Italy). Then come the big three lakes – Como, Garda and Maggiore. Beyond these four hotspots, prices drop considerably. Homes are especially affordable high up in the Alpine north, and often even more so down in the flat southern lowland flanking the long Po Valley. Meanwhile, property in Lombardy’s various small cities (Brescia, Bergamo, Cremona, Mantua, Pavia, etc.) tend to occupy a reasonable mid-range of prices. All well and good, but you’ll probably want these generalisations translated into actual numbers. What exactly can you expect to pay for what in Lombardy? Here follows a detailed set of examples, based on a thorough trawl through what’s currently offered for sale.

Real numbers
Let’s start with Milan, Italy’s richest and most costly city. Central property here goes for about €6,000 per square metre of floorspace, meaning that an average two-bedroom apartment costs about €350,000. (Note that Milan’s thriving rentals market means that you could probably rent out a place like this to students or young professionals for €3,000+ a month.) It’s possible, of course, to pay much less for a good flat in Milan. A stylish newly-built complex is currently offering studio apartments, one-beds and two-beds for between €108,000 and €227,000. Get outside the city and prices tumble. Plenty of workers commute into Milan from pleasant satellite towns such as Lodi 25km southeast. Here a one-bed apartment can be had for €85,000, a 3-bed for €120,000. Travel the same sort of distance due south of Milan, to charming Pavia and its environs, and you could snap up a rustic house needing complete renovation for just €20,000-€35,000. A habitable two-bed country house down here might set you back €60,000-€90,000.

      Leaving Milan behind and moving up to Italy’s ‘Lake District’, we see that there are about a dozen lakes of various sizes in northern Lombardy. Three of them are sizzling property hotspots – Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore – while the much smaller and lesser-known others have markedly lower prices. Como is perhaps the priciest of the big three, with one-bedroom apartments near the water starting at about €110,000. Two-beds start at not much more than this on the other two lakes, while Como’s two-beds get going near the €200,000 mark. Bargain-hunters should know that property is much cheaper in the hills and mountains around these popular lakes than it is on the slopes climbing out of the water or down on the shoreline. There are various two-bedroom rustic houses or village houses in the Lake Como area offered for as little as €70,000-€100,000, as well as plenty more at higher prices. Some of these homes are in the far Alpine north, and near ski resorts. Likewise there are good-value homes for sale in the wider vicinity of the other big lakes. Two-bed flats on Garda’s lakeshore might start at about €150,000, but 20 minutes away you might get a two-bedroom village house for €90,000, or a bit further afield, one of many small rustic houses needing work for €50,000-€80,000.

      Lombardy’s attractive small cities are reasonably-priced places. Lovely Bergamo is nicely positioned roughly equidistant from Milan and Lake Como, and not far from little Lake Iseo. One-bedroom apartments here range from €75,000 to €150,000, and two-beds from €90,000 to €250,000. A two-bed house can cost as little as €130,000, while various comfortable villas in the countryside round the town run from about €300,000 to €800,000. Brescia is similarly well-sited, between Lake Iseo and Lake Garda. It offers one-bed apartments from €60,000 to €180,000, and two-beds from €100,000 to about €280,000. Mantua, sited on the less-popular flat plain of southern Lombardy but not far from Lake Garda, is slightly less expensive. While Cremona, also on the flat plain, is cheaper still. In its vicinity, you can pick up country houses with two or three bedrooms for about €100,000.

Scouring agents
You'll find no shortage of estate agents dealing with property in Lombardy. Whether based in Britain and dealing almost exclusively with British buyers, or based in Italy and selling mainly to Italians, agents dealing with this region tend to offer a very high standard of service. In fact, however and wherever you buy in Lombardy, you can expect high standards across the board. Agents will be extremely competent, buildings will be well-constructed, information will be easily forthcoming. You’ll find it easy to get to Lombardy, and to get around the region. You’ll find a lot of people here can speak English. And you’ll find you’re made to feel very welcome. The British have long had a significant presence in Lombardy – both as visitors and as settlers – and so the local people will look upon you as something of an old friend. They know your kind and have enjoyed the company of people like you many times. Above all, they don’t resent your presence here for one minute. They know their region is stuffed to the brim with sophisticated, civilized charms. The fact that you recognize this and want to spend time here just tells them you’ve got good sense.


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The northwest
Northwest Lombardy’s chief attractions are Lake Maggiore and Lake Como – both serene and super-civilised places to live or to visit. Popular with international visitors for more than a century, both lakes sport pretty, fruit-coloured villas and elegant waterside walkways. Como is perhaps the slightly more dramatic and romantic of the two – with steep green mountainsides plunging straight into the blue water, and a perfect number of attractive tiny towns dotted along the shoreline. It’s hugely popular with Brits, who make up about 15% of all property buyers here. Despite Lake Como’s popularity, it somehow manages to magically maintain its air of unspoilt tranquillity. (The fact that visitors here and on Lake Maggiore tend to be at the older end of the age spectrum might contribute to the general sense of calm.) The northern end of Lake Como is a little less expensive than the middle and south of the lake. Less visited by tourists, perhaps because it’s that much further from transport-hub Milan, Lake Como’s north tends to have less of a tourist-based economy and so it feels less like a ghost town in the winter compared to the summer. Lake Maggiore spills over from Lombardy into Switzerland. Its surrounding slopes are gentler than Como’s, but its benign microclimate is deliciously the same. Maggiore benefits from having several gorgeous islands in its midst, some of which sport visitable palazzi and sumptuous gardens.

The northeast
Lombardy’s far north borders Switzerland, and the mountains, fresh air and even architecture up here distinctly recall the neighbouring country. Ski resorts are dotted around the place, as are innumerable attractive little villages. Between Lake Como and Lake Iseo sits the lovely little city of Bergamo, its clean, cobbled streets bathed in fresh mountain air. Further east, Brescia is another attractive small city full of venerable buildings. Surrounded by vineyard-clad hills, Brescia benefits considerably from its proximity to Lake Garda. The largest and most popular lake in Italy, Garda is particularly loved by sailors and windsurfers. Its shoreline is very well-developed – some would say in places over-developed. It can be a crowded place in the summer, and not all the waterside towns are attractive. As with all Lombardy’s larger lakes, holiday rental prospects on properties here are excellent. Garda’s southern shores are low-lying, rising to rocky cliffs in the north where there’s good skiing and Alpine walking. Half the lake lies in the Veneto region rather than in Lombardy, which means you’re close to delightful places such as Verona, Padua and Venice. Lake Garda is a pricy spot to buy property, but there’s a huge range of attractions here – villas and gardens as well as watersports.

Milan
Italy’s second largest city but by far its wealthiest, chic and opulent Milan is the country’s capital of finance and fashion. The Italian stock exchange is here, and so are the country’s biggest designers. Most Milanese work ferociously hard, and go to work in dazzlingly sharp suits. But they know how to play as well – the city has a rich cultural scene, good nightlife, and a very convivial café society. The shopping, as you’d expect, is excellent. Milan may not be the most beautiful of Italian cities (although it has one of Europe’s most undeniably stunning cathedrals) but it’s an extremely snazzy place with a fabulous lifestyle on offer – if you can afford it. Milan is the costliest city for property in Italy, with prices comparable to London. The rental prospects, to young professionals or to students, are excellent though. With so many international companies having offices here, it’s no surprise that Milan has Italy’s highest concentration of foreign residents. There are only about 2,000 Brits, yet there’s at least one British School in the city. Milan’s outskirts can be quite industrial, but once you get beyond the urban sprawl there are attractions in every direction – wide cropfields and charming medieval towns to the south, gorgeous lakes and mountains to the north. The Milanese strive to get their work-life balance right, and they enjoy regular weekends away from the city. In August, Milan is practically empty as its workers take to the lakes, to the beaches of Liguria, and beyond.

The south
The landscape of Lombardy’s south is dominated by the vast, fertile Po Valley. Huge agricultural fields lie peppered with old farmhouses in various states of repair. Several lovely old towns – tiny cities, really – add considerable colour and interest. First is Pavia, a handsome and contented place where a dozen San-Gimignano-like medieval towers still keep watch over the attractive skyline (scores of other towers having tumbled down over the centuries). There’s a good life to be had here, and property prices are about a third of those in Milan an hour away. East of Pavia, the next town of note is Cremona, world capital of violin-making, and a pleasantly cosy, provincial sort of place. Lombardy’s last major town before you meet the border with the Veneto is Mantua (or Mantova if you want to use the actual Italian name rather than the Anglophone adaptation that generations of British travellers have used) – a deeply appealing place and again very reasonable in terms of property costs. Mantua’s exotic-looking skyline rises above three lakes that encircle the little city and bloom with lotus flowers in the summer. Down on the streets, it’s all medieval cobbled piazzas and interesting old buildings. The waterways and flat terrain surrounding Mantua make for lots of pleasant boat trips and happy cycling along well-made cycle paths. With Lake Garda not very far away, and all the delights of the Veneto region on your doorstep, Mantua offers a very high quality of life.



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My Home in Lombardy

Danielle Smith from Solihull in the West Midlands runs a luxury B&B at the northern end of Lake Como. She went to Italy for a university degree and never came home again, eventually marrying an Italian.

      “We bought the house 4 years ago, in 2003,” Danielle says. “It was utterly derelict, and had never been lived in. A man built it by hand and just left it empty for twenty years. It was perfect because we were looking for something we could put our own personality into. Thankfully my husband’s a master carpenter, so we had 100% control over the work!”

      The house, ‘Villa Très Jolie’, now has six guest rooms and two apartments, not to mention a meeting room, gym, sauna and Turkish bath. Danielle and Giulio’s visitors are mainly Germans, English, Canadians, South Africans, and a few Italians. The fact that their hostess speaks English is a huge advantage. But why the French name? “We’d just been on holiday to France, and the only thing Giulio had learnt was ‘oh, très jolie!’ Then we came straight here and viewed this house, and the first thing he said when he saw it was ‘oh, très jolie!’ so we had to call it that!”

      Perhaps because she lives in such a beautiful part of the world, Danielle is admirably keen on protecting the environment. “We serve organic food, and we’ve got solar panels to heat the water. We tried to make the house as ecologically sound as possible when we were building it.” Danielle adores Lake Como. “I love the spring when the flowers are coming out, I love the summer when it’s hot and heavy, I love autumn with the colours of the leaves, and winter when you can see the snowy mountains reflected in the calm water. I think there’s nothing nicer than mountains next to a lake. That’s why I love Como the most. I find Garda too big and too commercialised; Lake Maggiore is lovely, but there are very few towns there. Como is brilliant because you’ve got high mountains at the top end, with skiing not far away, then you can go straight down the lake by car or boat and you’ve got all sorts of gorgeous little towns and pretty villas, and of course you’ve got Milan just an hour away.”

      Danielle sees quite a lot of Brits buying houses on Lake Como, especially at the less expensive northern end. “In the summer, the middle parts of the lake are really lively but in the winter everything closes down and it’s like a ghost town. But at the northern end, everybody lives there year-round, and things stay open. It’s not so touristy and so the locals want to get to know you more.”  Visit: www.villatresjolie.com




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Where to Buy in Italy
the middle parts of the lake are really lively but in the winter everything closes down and it’s like a ghost town. But at the northern end, everybody lives there year-round, and things stay open. It’s not so touristy and so the locals want to get to know you more.”

Visit: www.villatresjolie.com






Where to Buy in Italy